Kashmir Calling


Did you kill this man?
I did;
Did you know he was not a militant?
I did;
Then why did you do so?
For reward;
Do you know you committed a crime?
But, sir, he  was only a Kashmiri.

Even as utterly bigoted and power-drunk rogues among the Special Operations Group Forces in Kashmir, under cover of immunity from the draconian Disturbed Areas and Armed Forces Special Powers Act, commit  nonchalant murders in furtherance of petty preferment, (just as they do in the North East),  a consensus of admirable sanity seems to gather mass in the very heart of darkness.

It is increasingly evident that a sharp precipitation of positions is now on hand, as forces inimical to peace and democracy seem for the first time in decades on the backfoot, although more strident and determined for that very reason.

If, however, intimations of some real hope greet us today, hope that does not for once promise merely to return Kashmir to yet another sterile stalemate, our thanks will seem due to three primary factors:  first and foremost, the heroically unprecedented struggle of the people of Kashmir; second, bold and creative leadership in India and Pakistan, and, thirdly,   vastly and decisively altered international geo-political configurations.

An Indian parliament resolution  that says Kashmir is an “integral part of India”   (implying that there the matter ends) notwithstanding, the Indian establishment has come to acknowledge that a “dispute” there has been.  No small thing that.

Impelled by the Pakistan President’s subsequent formulation that a resolution be sought by first excluding positions unacceptable to both countries, the Indian Prime Minister could bring himself round to say that short of jeopardizing sovereignty or redrawing territory, a process of negotiations could be engaged in that would lead to creative and imaginative mechanisms of devolution,      rendering,  as the Pakistan President had suggested, the Line of Control a formal construct merely.  It must be noted here, though, that important and substantial differences remain to be sorted out here as to the  kinds  of activity that may be formalized across the LOC and the modalities for so doing.

That Pakistan under Musharraf has been willing to press ahead with speed came to be strikingly evidenced by the stunning, although historically and legally accurate, pronouncement that Pakistan had never made a claim to Kashmir, reiterating that  the all-important consideration was that any solution must have the concurrence of the “people of Kashmir.”

One may note here another far-reaching switch on behalf of the Pakistan President:  if up until now the tangled question of who actually represents the people of Kashmir had seemed wholly unproblematic to the Pakistan establishment (to the extent that the armed Jamat-e-Islami- indoctrinated militants were thought to do so without contention), that question also came to be revisited critically by the President in his recent meeting with Mirwaiz Umar Farooq who leads what has come to be called the “moderate” faction of the All Party Hurriyat Conference.

Boldly and justly, the President has come to recognize that, one, Kashmiri representation is not as monolithic a phenomenon as erstwhile ideological persuasions might have dictated, and, secondly, and all-importantly, that such sections as still seek to force a resolution through the gun cannot be participants on the negotiating high table. That this has been the Indian position is well known, but it is to be hoped that ways will be found to include Kashmiri militants in whatever parleys ensue, and that they will  sieze the moment that history now seems to offer. Nor, it must be underlined, may Kashmiri Pandit organizations be left out, since the preservation of the syncretic Kashmiriyat that everybody—except the good old communalists on either side– wishes to nurture  requires that they return and  reassert the invaluable secular and composite traditions of Jammu & Kashmir.

In one shot, as it were, (although endless back-channel considerations, Pakistan’s own altered situation in relation to “terrorism,”  and the international zeitgeist now clearly lay behind Pakistan’s truly path-breaking disavowal here of violence as a legitimate form of redressal), a ringing  follow-up has been  added to the Pakistani acceptance, however laggard initially, of the Proposal that the Indian Prime Minister had made in Havana in September, 2006—that a “joint anti-terror mechanism” be set-up to confront “terrorist” depredations.  Needless to say, that the Indian proposal was to draw the same quality of fire from   right-wing “nationalists” in India as Pakistan’s stipulation earlier of never having made a claim to Kashmir had drawn and continues to draw from the right-wing “nationalists” in Pakistan.  If the Pakistani President was seen to have treacherously abandoned a claim which, after all, had all these years legitimated three wars with India and the subsequent jihad,  the Indian Prime Minister was seen to have at one go converted Pakistan from a perpetrator to a victim of “terrorism.”

Subsequent events have demonstrated that the President and the Prime Minister have both been rather ahead of revanchist predilections:  three attempts have been made on the life of the President of Pakistan, and in recent weeks, ten suicide bombings have occurred at crucial official establishments within and around the Pakistani capital.  All this a reminder that often history  does not respect  dearly held  doctrines as much as the sheer dynamic of change. It must be the force of that dynamic that not only has the “joint anti-terror mechanism” been set up and now endorsed by the former chief of India’s foreign intelligence service, the RAW, but its first meeting has also been scheduled for the 6th of March.

This fascinating skein of convergence has to it of course another all-important dimension.  Having jettisoned the plebiscite option as far back as his visit to India during the NDA regime, the President of Pakistan has put it clearly to the moderate Hurriyat leadership that  Pakistan is ready and willing to explore bold mechanisms of “self-governance” and “joint-management” so long as  these  fall “short of independence.”

This of course need not be such a departure, since “independence” for Jammu & Kashmir has neither formed a part of the old (and decrepit) UN resolutions of 1948, nor an option that Pakistan, just as India,  has ever endorsed. As I have suggested in a recent article,  Polls conducted in 2005 show that, contrary to general propagation, an overwhelming majority of Kashmiris across Jammu & Kashmir state also do not favour this option.  Indeed, within the valley itself, if 53% asked for independence, 37 % wished to retain their Indian citizenship in contrast also to 3% who wish to opt for Pakistan (1). The question then must be what exactly India and Pakistan will bring to the table as they debate the concrete contours of “self-governance and joint management.”  Difficulties here must arise from the asymmetries between the objective histories and conditions that have obtained and continue to obtain in the two parts of Jammu & Kashmir. 
The   structure of convergence between Indian and Pakistani realignments on   both the major questions of old  (UN resolutions, Plebiscite, Jihadi violence as “freedom struggle” on the one side, and the non-negotiable status of J&K as “integral part of India on the other) and on the desirability to pursue the “peace process” as the only workable praxis, path-breaking in itself, may have remained a democratically insufficient precondition had not important “separatist” groups, chiefly the Hurriyat led by Umar Farooq, also come to the conclusion that, one, violent struggle has run its course and, indeed, defeated its own purposes, and, two, that the coalescing of the Musharraf-Manmohan position on   “self rule” short of independence  is something to work with.

Taken together with the political groups who have consistently participated in local assembly elections in J&K and advocated peaceful and democratic struggle on behalf of greater “autonomy”  (often a reference to the stipulations first of the Delhi Agreement signed between the Nehru and Abdullah governments in 1952 after the adoption of the Accession and the Jammu & Kashmir Constitution, and then again to the Accord reached between a returned Sheikh Abdullah and the Indira Gandhi government at the Centre, both of which concede Kashmir’s “special status” under the Instrument of Accession vide Article 370 of the Indian Constitution), the willingness now of the dominant section of the Hurriyat to explore this route lends to the new convergence a strength it may not have had heretofore.  That the Mirwaiz-led Hurriyat means business, however risky to life and limb (it will be remembered that the latter’s venerated father fell victim to a militant bullet) is borne out by the fact that the street-level opposition from the Jamat-e-Islami faction led by Syed Ali Shah Gilani was openly confronted recently in Srinagar city by cadres of the Mirwaiz group.

Note that this impulse finds now an echo on the other side of the Line of Control.  Speaking on the occasion of what is called there the “Kashmir Solidarity Day,” the Prime Minister (sic) of Paksitan Occupied Kashmir stated on feb.,5 that “negotiations are the best method” to resolve the dispute in the context of the changed international situation.  Sardar Attique Ahmed went on endorse the terms of the “peace process” based as these are on Mushrraf’s “proposals” and the Indian Prime Ministers’s “positive” response to them.

 In all this, the Jammu & Kashmir Liberation Front led by Yasin Malik occupies a hitherto tantalizing position.  Perhaps the most well-thought-of group from the 1989 days when armed militancy broke in the state, it went into armed struggle but returned to  a non-violent and  democratic praxis in 1994.  Although, despite brutal victimization at the hands of the military and para-military forces and often gruesome revenge by both the  jihadi militants  and “reformed” vigilantes doing service for the state, it  remains committed to a democratic praxis, its formal demand also remains unaltered in favour of “independence” rather than any form of autonomy or self-rule.  What contributions the JKLF makes to the developing situation in the coming days will be a crucial factor. That this group sets great store by Kashmiriyat and espouses a secular and composite state and polity makes its political location an extraordinarily enticing and important one.

Clearly, the fairly radical rethinks outlined above must be seen as the products of a combination of historical urgencies.  A heart-breaking yearning for peace within Kashmir deriving from a terminal disillusionement with the corruptions that came to afflict those that took to the gun, a deeply felt realization within Kashmir, India and Pakistan that no military solution exists, the willingness within the Indian establishment to recognize that burying the head in the sand will not make the problem go away, the realization within the Musharraf government that poisoned chalices often return to plague the inventor, especially as erstwhile bartenders now turn their face, a new self-assurance within civil societies in Pakistan that, Hindu right-wing nuisance notwithstanding, India harbours no assimilatory intentions towards the entity called Pakistan,  the uninhibited impulses of younger generations in each country to enjoy and profit by what a newer world has to offer as the demons of India’s partition come to be exorcised in public memory   (exemplified most of all by Punjabis on either side taking the lead in forging people-to-people contacts),  and, not the least, a drastic transformation in the attitude of imperialism towards contentions that do not suit its purposes, be it the balkanization of nation-states—this concatenation of shaping impulses now lead the Kashmir imbroglio in a direction that calls for a deepening of democratic practices, for just and legitimated institutions of governance, for a federalism that upholds at any cost the sanctities of local rule, and for the abjuration of recourse to all forms of violence.

Most of all, it calls for  processes of healing  that might over time bring a broken people back to normalcy and health.

Having said that, it should be no surprise that those political entities that constantly seek to locate the Kashmir contention in the history of India’s partition in 1947 are up in outcry, fearing a terminal threat to their political  future.

If in India the RSS is busy bemoaning “muslim appeasement,” complicity with “terrorists” (notice that Afzal guru has not been promptly hung), sell-out of Indian “nationalism” to a “jihadi” Pakistan, and so forth (never mind that the most repeated and facile gestures of peace towards Pakistan were made by the Vajpayee-led NDA regime), in Pakistan the Jamat-e-Islami leader, Qazi Hussain Ahmed, accuses the Musharraf government (of which his political group is a part) of complicity in jettisoning the “two-nation” theory upon which Pakistan had come into existence (feb.,5 meet).  The Qazi underscores his communal thesis rather dramatically: look that on the one hand Musharraf is busy drawing a fence across the border with a muslim Afghanistan while on the other he is keen to make friends with a “Hindu” India inorder to betray the  muslims in Kashmir!

Similarly, within the valley, Syed Ali Shah Gilani of the Jamat-e-Islami rues what he calls a “nationalist”, “secular”, “democratic”,  “even communist” conspiracy to cheat Kashmiris of their right to self-determination (which Gilani naturally expects must lead to merger with Pakistan).

And yet, theirs’ seems now a losing enterprise. 

As the “peace process” develops in the coming days, accompanied within Kashmir by drastic reduction in military and para-military presence, as well as exemplary punishment meted out to their murdering members, a question will arise as to the prospects of the Musharraf Presidency in Pakistan.  Contrary to earlier misgivings, it does now seem in the light of many recent events and decisions there that his Presidency and the enlightened civil societies that back him may be crucial to the success of the far-reaching initiatives now underway.

Dependent as his regime is on the legislative support precisely of those political sections who oppose any form of entente on Kashmir, can it be India’s wish that he take recourse to the Emergency provision in the current Pakistani Constituion that can, theoretically,  enable him to extend the life of the current assemblies by a year, and then ask them to reelect him prior to a fresh election which will soon be due?  Is there any guarantee that they will oblige?  And if, conversely, he is compelled to jettison his uniform before the next election, can it be said what the political architecture of the establishment in Pakistan then will be? These are further reasons why an urgency attaches to the “peace process.” The need, it will seem, is to move forward on the modalities of “autonomy”/”self-governance” in ways that may spawn a momentum and a dynamic not then to be retracted. 

As these modalities are worked out,  it will be fatal not to extend the principle of  devolution to all provinces of the state of Jammu & Kashmir—a massive but wholly necessary exercise that will test the resolve and political ingenuity of all parties to the question.

As to “joint-management”: much easier said than done.  Given that Pakistan Occupied Kashmir remains for any real purpose a total hostage to Pakistani Army rule, with a dummy assembly in place, a drastic and open transformation of the systemic realities there must precede any consideration that Kashmiris on that side of the LOC can function as voluntary “managers” of anything.  It would seem that for now the furthest possibility suggested here by the Indian Prime Minister is a rational and plausible one—that in matters of some services, transport, health, commerce and trade—such management appears feasible of operation.

At a macro level, the call on both India and Pakistan is to free Kashmiris of the sense that they remain in a state of colonization—a sense that is shared by Indians in the North Eastern states and by the Baluchis and the Pushtuns in Pakistan.  And to free them in ways that translate into sustained and assertive instruments of self-realisation, always aided rather than thwarted by the Central governments in the two countries.

It is a thought, finally, that failure no longer is an option that can be sustained for any length of time.
(1) see my “Is Independence a Viable Option forJammu & Kashmir?” Znet, Jan.,25.

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